Make your pet more frugal

A post I published last week mentioning frugal fitness garnered a couple of comments that getting a dog is not a frugal choice.

Of course, we make many decisions in our lives that are governed by more than frugality. At least, I hope so.

But the facts are in, and pet ownership certainly is not cheap. This chart prepared by the ASPCA shows the rundown. I don’t yet have pet insurance, which it lists as a cost, but annual vet exams and vaccinations more than make up the difference for my two dogs (one large, one small). Additionally, there are other unanticipated expenses: Our big dog just had his teeth cleaned (he’s a rescue, and they were awful), and the little dog has allergies that require him to take daily medications. Little dog had a growth on his ear that needed lab testing, and big dog has fatty tumors that will, undoubtedly, lead us to other lab expenses.

There are ways, however, to make pets more affordable:

  1. Buy the best, cheapest food that works for your pet. Free Money Finance (which often writes about how costly pets are) just posted about pet food. The comments provide some additional information. One of our dogs eats the formula that seems to work best for his allergies and digestion, which is a medium-expensive brand from PetSmart. The other eats Kirkland Ultra Premium dog food from Costco. Compare costs by ounce or by pound to find the best value. But don’t sacrifice cost for price — you’ll pay in irritability, weight gain, a not-so-shiny coat, allergies and/or excessive amounts of poo. And no one likes poo.
  2. Avoid wet food. It’s more expensive, can cause bad breath, and doesn’t clean the teeth like dry food does.
  3. Brush their teeth. Just as with our own teeth, an ounce of prevention is worth several hundred dollars’ worth of dental cleaning. Nothing like a little beef-flavored toothpaste to get that brush in the mouth. (Unfortunately, I find it as hard to remember this as to remember my own flossing regimen — but fits and starts is better than nothing.)
  4. Get care at a discount. Simply Thrifty mentioned that this month is National Pet Dental Health Month, so many dentists are offering discounts on cleaning. Call now to get in. She also mentions dental schools for human dental care. I wonder if vet schools offer similar bargains?
  5. Go no-groom. Frugal pet owners will choose a pet that doesn’t require professional grooming, which can run around $200 per year or more. Or, learn to do the job yourself.
  6. Go smaller … but not too small. The smallest dogs are expensive to care for because they can have health issues. Big dogs are expensive to care for, too — and they eat more food. Plus, a dog on the small side will cause less wear and tear on household furnishings, and require smaller (and thus less expensive) beds, toys, treats, collars, leashes and crates.
  7. Forget status. A rescue dog or shelter dog costs less to adopt than a pedigreed pooch. Cats at a shelter are extremely inexpensive to adopt (around $25 at our local shelter, and they sometimes come buy-one-get-one-free). An older pet might have the bonus of already being spayed or neutered (the procedure costs $100 to $300 typically), perhaps (hopefully!) have been trained, and will likely have outgrown the puppy or kitty crazies that drive animals and owners to destruction/distraction.
  8. Crate train your dog. Train the dog to stay in a crate or confined area when you are away. You will gain peace of mind, and in terms of dollars and cents, you will avoid the costs of replacing furniture, rugs, clothing and toys that could be destroyed by a rampaging pooch — or just worn out faster by a pup jumping on and off the couch a thousand times a day. Plus, you might avoid a vet bill after Fido or Kitty eats something he shouldn’t have.
  9. Spay/neuter – and shop around. In addition to avoiding unplanned litters of “grandpets,” the ASPCA also mentions that spaying and neutering animals dramatically lowers their incidence of breast, ovarian, uterine and testicular cancer. Many municipalities offer low-cost spay/neuter clinics and low-cost vaccination clinics. Check the yellow pages in your area, call the Dumb Friends League, or inquire with your pet licensing authority for recommendations.
  10. Keep their weight healthy. Just like humans, pets’ health suffers if the animal is overweight. Unlike humans, pets are at the mercy of owners who can control the pets’ weight by changing the amount of kibble they eat at each meal and eliminating unhealthy snacks. Ask a vet about your pet’s ideal weight and keep him or here in the ballpark. Most pets like a bit of fruit or veggie for an occasional treat — find what your pet likes and what agrees with his/her system, and keep other snacks low-fat.
  11. Track health conditions. Some conditions like fatty tumors (or lipomas) are common, could be worrisome, but generally aren’t. If your pet is prone to them, get the vet’s initial rundown on their safety. Then make a “map” of your pet, mark where existing lumps are located and write down the approximate size. Check the pet every so often and compare to your “map” to be sure any lipomas aren’t growing.
  12. Compare prices. Human pharmacies fill pet prescriptions, according to this article. I haven’t tried this one yet, but with my dog that requires chronic medication, a quick price comparison shows that filling his prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy could save $126 dollars a year, cutting 53 percent of what I’m currently paying the vet. I think I’ll bite the bullet next time a refill comes up and ask the vet to write a prescription.

Please chime in with your tips, too. Stay cheap … but please, allow us to love our furry friends.

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The (almost) gasless car is (almost) here

Chevrolet has unveiled the final production model of its Volt, a car that can travel 40 miles on a battery charge … without any gas. They say it will be available in 2010.

It’s not a Flintstone-style, foot-powered vehicle. Instead you fill the tank with gas, and the gas powers a generator that can charge the batteries on a longer journey.

Of course, it’s not free of all energy use. (Remember physics? Motion is energy. OK, I never took physics. But that’s the general idea.) Instead, you plug it in to charge the batteries, so theoretically, you could use clean power, solar, wind, etc. No word on whether the “common household plug” it will use will be 110 volt or 220 volt, but it would be annoying to have to run new power to your garage if it were the latter.

The price is estimated somewhere in the $35,000 range. The mileage? Well, that appears to be seriously confusing, but consider it somewhere between 48 miles per gallon and 100 mpg.

Now if only they can invent a gasless dog. Or a car that charges its batteries using canine gas as a power source …

Friday wrap-up: Stainless freezer ware, dog costs, SmartFlix and how to spend

This week brings a menagerie of money and earth-saving ideas.

Stainless for the freezer

Today, Fake Plastic Fish posted about new stainless ware for freezing food. It all sounds good … although I clicked through and found the containers cost at least $13 each. Compare a one-time cost of buying stainless ware to health risks of the future. Hmm, for the time being, I’ll likely stick with glass, foil and yes, plastic … but I will keep this in mind for a longer-term investment.

Videos with know-how

As a birthday gift, partly from my husband, partly from my late grandma’s bequest, which I’m so far whittling down for hobbies, I bought a great wheel (also called a walking wheel) the other day. (That’s not me on the video, but it gives you an idea.) But I don’t really know how to use it. Someone on Ravelry suggested I look into charkha spinning for tips. I thought a video would be just the thing, but the video I found on charkha spinning costs $40 — a bit steep for something I might not refer to more than once.

Then I came across SmartFlix, where I can rent the same video for $10 (including shipping to and fro). It’s still a little pricey, but less expensive than buying, and less wasteful too. Has anyone tried it?

The cost of a dog bite

And this article on MSN.com about the financial dangers — not to mention the moral obligations — of dog ownership was sobering, considering that we are thinking about adopting another dog. Fortunately, our current and prospective pets aren’t on the dangerous breeds list. And we have a large umbrella liability insurance policy, too.

After all, just having a dog is costly enough. The dog rescue organization asks whether adoptinig households can afford $1200 a year to feed and care for the new animal, and I think that estimate is about right, based on expenses for our current dog.

Spendthrift or tightwad?

And I came across this article about whether you should spend your money now or save it. I think there is a middle ground, but this question came to mind this week when I bought an expensive electronic gadget at Costco. I bought it because I’ve been contemplating one for Christmas for months, and last weekend, Little Cheap tried it out at a friend’s house and came home extremely enthusiastic. Costco had a good deal, and as I’ve been saving for Christmas since January in a special ING Direct account, I had the money to burn.

But ours is going straight into our closet for 3.5 long months. The man behind me said, “Oh, some lucky kids are having a party tonight!” and I was so surprised, thinking, “Do some people really just come home one day with a $400 gadget and go to town?” Sometimes I wonder if I’m too prudish, making everything wait for a special occasion. On the other hand, I don’t want to set the precedent of a big-ticket item being something we just rush out to buy.

Where do you stand on pricey toys or events? Save or spend?

Friday wrap-up: New cars, old socks

These were my two favorite posts elsewhere this week.

Get Rich Slowly had a guest post from a car reviewer called “What’s Not to Love About a New Car.” I agree with most of her arguments– although I did buy a new car four years ago.  (But certainly not at a 10.39% interest rate, like her boyfriend! Ours is 1.9%.)

And Simply Thrifty posted 40 things to do with old socks. Wow! That’s a lot of single socks.

For you cuteness fans, check her link to a cute dog in a sweater made from a sock. Schnauzer Cheap is too big for a sock-sweater, but I do have some old men’s sweaters around whose sleeves just might work … and that would save me a heck of a lot of knitting.

My sister suggested a while back that we keep an extra sock or two (child-size, in our case) in case our dog has a hurt foot — to cover it up and keep it clean.

Are there any other sock geniuses among you?

Dealbusters: Homemade dog biscuits

dog biscuitsThis Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

Shortly after the dog food recall this spring, our local newspaper published a recipe for homemade dog biscuits.
We gave the biscuits a try. First we used a cookie cutter shaped like a little pig, about the size of a small bone-shaped commercial dog biscuit. But our dog tends to the overweight side, so we usually broke those in half. Now I make the biscuits using a 1″ round cutter.

If you don’t have a cutter the right size, be creative. You could use a well-floured lid from a gallon of milk or whatever else you find that’s right.

The cost breakdown:
I haven’t bought dog biscuits for quite a while, so I looked at prices on Amazon.com. Milk-Bone biscuits cost $3.99 for about 120 biscuits ($0.03 each); Meaty Bones biscuits cost $5.99 for about 78 biscuits ($0.08 each).

Cost breakdown of homemade dog biscuits:

  • 2.75 cups whole wheat flour – $0.40
  • 2 small jars baby food – $1.38
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder – $0.25
  • 1 tsp salt – $0.00
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk – $0.32
  • 1 egg – $0.28
  • 6 Tbsp vegetable oil – $0.24
  • 8-10 Tbsp water – $0.00
  • Natural gas oven (1 hour) – $0.23

TOTAL = $3.10 to make about 48 half-size biscuits, or $0.06 per small biscuit

Savings = There are none. Sadly, these biscuits cost 133 percent more than cheap store bought dog biscuits.

The winner: Homemade.

The priceless factors:
Knowing what is in the biscuits. Check out the ingredients of Meaty Bones or Milk-Bone and you’ll see what I mean — although I think I speak for everyone when I say that just reading the phrase “beef fat preserved with tocopherols” makes my stomach growl.

The biggest boon is that my dog LOVES these biscuits. He most often gets a biscuit when he goes into his kennel when we leave the house. With store-bought treats, he goes willingly enough. With homemade treats, when we lock the back door, he gets a gleam in his eye. When we reach a hand toward the fridge, he starts backing toward the bedroom. When we actually have the biscuit in hand, he runs into his kennel and waits for his treat. Easy-peasy.

The drawbacks:

  • Well, uh, it turns out they’re not cheap in the least. But since we dole out just one to two a day, $3.10 is a price I’m willing to pay for about two months’ worth of biscuits.
  • They are not super-crunchy, so they aren’t brushing the dog’s teeth while he chews.
  • They have no preservatives, so I store them in a container in the fridge to stay on the safe side.

The verdict:
Call me a spendthrift. I’ll keep making these for sure.

Grade: A

Photo by Dana Coffield, from The Denver Post